May 25, 2007

Who am I in the dark?

“The best test of good manners is what a person does when they are by themselves.”

I read that a zillion years ago, can’t remember the source, but it comes often into my thoughts. What I am shows up when no one is watching.

Is this also a test of legal and moral responsibility? For instance, what about traffic laws? How would I drive if there was no speed limit or rules of the road? Would I pass that test? Or how would I act if no hidden cameras could record me? Or if no one stopped me from taking what caught my fancy?

Memories of movies about anarchy leave little to the imagination. We call ourselves a civilized society, but if we suddenly lost our clean water supply, or if the grocery stores ran out of food, the sinful nature of human beings would ensure that most people would flunk the good manners test, to say the least.

I read Romans 6:14 this morning and thought of these things. It says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

If you ask a non-Christian person how to please God, they almost always offer “Keep His commandments” or some variation thereof. Be good. Do good. Go to church. Be kind toward others. Keep the rules.

Christians know that keeping the Law has never made anyone right with God, because, “by the Law, no one is justified.” We cannot do it. The Law of God has value, just like speed limits, by telling us what is not acceptable. However, keeping these laws is another matter. Oh, maybe we can do it externally. I’ve never made a graven image, or murdered anyone, but in my heart where it counts, I’ve bowed to idols and had murderous thoughts. Man looks on the outward appearance; God is concerned about the heart.

Not only do we fail to keep it, God says that is not His way of becoming saved from sin. A perfect person, if there was such a person, would still not be right with God through rule-keeping, because God says we are not saved by law, but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). His way is faith, and through faith He transforms our hearts, makes us new, regenerates us, gives us the life of Christ.

All that said, a Christian, by faith, is changed to a different person. Instead of living by rules, we are called to live by God’s grace, by His revelations to us of truth and of His Son. By putting Jesus in our hearts, we can live by His life and what we are in public and in private will reflect that. If we fail that test, the Bible and the world have a label—hypocrite.

Romans 6:14 says the result of living under grace is freedom from the dominion of sin. Living by a list of do’s and don’t’s cannot help but produce hypocrisy. If the heart is not in it, we are merely play-acting. On the other hand, grace should bring out the real person, the transformed me. The rules are there to make clear the difference, but they cannot produce genuine good manners.

I’ve never seen this verse this way before, but already am thinking of the freedom. Instead of doing what I think others (including the Law) say I should do, I can respond to Jesus, and by doing that, my actions will pass the test, whether I’m with others or all by myself.

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